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DoD Deploys Defensive Measures Against Anthrax Mail Threat

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2001 – Starting Nov. 20 all incoming mail to the Pentagon will be opened and inspected, X-rayed and checked for anthrax, a Pentagon administrative official said.

"Any kind of mail or package deliveries that come into the building are to be first physically opened and inspected, checked for anthrax and X-rayed," said Pentagon Administrator Tony Tatum. The Army, he noted, is responsible for Pentagon mail operations.

Officials stopped delivery of official mail to the Pentagon Oct. 20 after the discovery of anthrax bacteria at the U.S. Postal Service's Brentwood facility in Washington, D.C., Tatum noted. Brentwood had processed mail for Pentagon delivery.

"We're expecting the first truckload of mail tomorrow that they've been holding in the Washington area," Tatum said.

He remarked that all incoming Pentagon mail -- including that delivered by Federal Express and United Parcel Service -- will be checked at a special containment area adjacent to the Defense Post Office located near the five-sided building.

Normally, about 1.5 million pieces of mail arrive monthly at the Pentagon through the Defense Post Office, Tatum said. Contractors in protective clothing will now open and screen that mail, he added.

Tatum said specially constructed "downdraft tables" that suck air downward from opened mail to filters have been installed at the Pentagon mail handling/screening facility. The filters, he said, are tested for anthrax for each batch of mail opened. Tatum said the mail handlers wear protective clothing, facemasks and protective gloves.

All mail will be held for up to 72 hours, Tatum said, pending test results. Mail testing negative for anthrax will be forwarded for distribution to Pentagon recipients.

Mail reading positive for anthrax "would be held, the Defense Protective Service would be notified and take possession of the mail as possible evidence," Tatum said.

He estimated that the first batch of Pentagon mail under the new security protocol could start being distributed around Nov. 26, after negative results are received and after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Tatum said he has confidence in the new mail security procedures. "Is it 100-percent accurate? No, but it is as good as you can do in this situation," he emphasized.

Regarding that 72-hour waiting time for anthrax test results, Tatum remarked: "We're hoping to get that reduced when improved test techniques become available."

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